Those who had written off the Holly Theatre restoration as a lost cause might want to think again.
When the JPR Foundation's ambitious plans to restore the Holly as a performing arts center became entangled in a power struggle involving the Oregon University System, Southern Oregon University and former JPR Executive Director Ron Kramer, work ground to a halt. Since the restored facade was dedicated to some fanfare nearly a year ago, little activity had occurred.
Despite the doubts of some in the community, Kramer had insisted that much of the money needed to complete the restoration could be obtained from outside the area through tax-credit programs designed to encourage historic preservation.
Randy Bobst-McKay, the newly hired executive director of Jefferson Live!, told the Medford Urban Renewal Agency board last week that the theater has a firm pledge of $845,000, and he expects to be able to increase that total to $2.6 million through the tax-credit programs. Jefferson Live! would not have to repay that money.
If Bobst-McKay is successful, that would leave a balance of about $800,000 to raise over three years — a realistic goal. He is no newcomer to this work; he led a successful effort to restore a 1911 theater in Vallejo, Calif., during the economic downturn, and helped with a theater restoration project in San Jose as well.
Receiving even some of the initial $2.6 million quickly would mean work on the Holly could resume this fall.
That is the best news of all for supporters of the Holly project, because potential donors will be much more likely to contribute if they can see that the restoration is actually happening.
Members of the Medford City Council, who also serve as the MURA board, said they were surprised and pleased to learn of the initial fundraising success.
The Holly project is not a done deal yet. News of the initial investment pledge is a good sign, but there are no guarantees. Still looming in the background are concerns that a rejuvenated Holly would compete for local underwriting money with the Craterian, Medford's other performing arts center.
Those concerns are valid, although Holly supporters insist their theater would book different acts than the Craterian and complement, not compete with it.
For now, the Holly project appears to be back on track. That's good news for downtown Medford and for the region.